For the Brexiteers, the referendum was never about the EU – it was the product of a forgotten England
In December 2014, I visited the seaside town of Great Yarmouth, a place of crumbling pleasure parks, a Vegas-inspired strip of amusements and an abundance of tired seafront B&Bs, it had become one of the hunting grounds for the advancing UKIP project. Even at that time, with a general election only months away, peripheral areas such as these were in the main disregarded as blips on the UK map, a hangover from past flirtations with the BNP. In reality, these marginalised communities are the result of long neglect and were already well on their way to mass revolt against the abstracted lands of Westminster. David Cameron had been alerted to this however, and in a bid to salvage would-be UKIP voters, slipped in his manifesto pledge of a referendum on EU membership with the safeguard that a majority victory would be unlikely. Failure by the mainstream parties to truly combat this resentment led to UKIP’s showing of 3.8 million voters in the election, a worrying development for the establishment as a whole. However the British electoral system was seen to work against these voters once again, nullifying the gains for UKIP to a single MP.
Fast forward to the aftermath of the EU referendum, a point at which the dust has yet to settle over the intergenerational anger which shapes the current dialogue. The younger generation awoke Friday morning to the horror of the most significant political event in their lifetimes, a full scale rejection by half the country against all the recommendations of the establishment. This event became a perfect opportunity to voice the fears, anger and resentment present in the shires and beyond with a single silver bullet. Rather than the process of a conventional election where the impact of democracy is a more murky affair, a simple in or out allows for a more direct, instantaneous effect to be achieved. While the vote of anti-establishment sentiment was charged with the sole aim of change, seemingly at any cost, it became quickly clear that this decision had simply succeeded in handing the keys over to Boris Johnson. Rather than transporting us back to an idealised past which never existed, the Brexiteers have in fact imprisoned themselves in a cage, force fed with a future menu of deregulation and low taxes while pushing the country towards an increasingly introverted state.
In the immediate hours after Dimbleby et al delivered the final verdict at around 4.45am, the metropolitan shrieks reverberated in unison around British city centres. Familiar accusations were made of bigots and racists, however this attitude also highlights the disdain and lack of will to even acknowledge the sorry state of some of Britain’s provinces. It would not be unfair to suggest that if any action is to be made in addressing these forgotten lands, an event such as this, however illogical and self-harming it may seem, was to some extent necessary. What is clear is that the future of the country seems to be drifting aimlessly to the right, with a bitter and shocked youth feeling deeply misrepresented. Those with the financial means, educational qualifications and international outlook may well to make use of their mobility in moving to Paris, Frankfurt, New York or elsewhere. Domestically, huge efforts are required to challenge a new government running on the fuel of Nigel Farage and to find an alternative for Great Yarmouth and its long list of troubled siblings, along with the 48% of the country who did not vote to leave the EU.